The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad is suspected of being behind bomb attacks on German and Swiss companies accused of actively assisting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in the 1980s.
According to the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), the attacks and threats were made to prevent these companies from supporting Pakistan’s program, which was perceived to be cooperating with Iran at the time.
NZZ is widely regarded as Switzerland’s “newspaper of record.”
It all started when Pakistan launched its own nuclear program shortly after India conducted its first successful nuclear test, popularly known as “Operation Smiling Buddha,” on May 18, 1974.
Pakistan was looking for a response to India’s program at the time. In this regard, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, also known as the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” arrived at the right time. In the 1980s, he began touring Europe in search of technology.
Islamabad valued Khan’s expertise, especially when he joined the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO), an engineering firm located in Amsterdam, in 1972.
The FDO was a subcontractor for the Urenco Group, which maintained a uranium enrichment factory and used a gaseous centrifuge technology to secure a supply of nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants in the Netherlands.
Soon after, Khan left the FDO when Urenco offered him a top technical job, first overseeing research on uranium metallurgy.
When he returned to Pakistan in 1975, he was put in control of the country’s domestic uranium enrichment program by then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Khan’s experience in Europe provided him with the relationships he needed as well as the opportunity to nurture component suppliers in Germany and Switzerland.
In the late 1980s, Pakistan struck a civilian nuclear accord with Iran as part of the ‘Atoms for Peace’ initiative, which Pakistan said was for benign purposes. While it was later uncovered that Dr. Khan did provide a confidential study on centrifuges to the Iranians, it is worth mentioning that an International Economic Agency assessment from 2005 said that Pakistan-Iran collaboration was mostly non-military and benign in character.
At the same time, the US was particularly wary of cooperating since the US considered Iran an enemy state following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis, as well as the impending Iran-Iraq war.
Concurrently, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made the US appreciate its cooperation with Pakistan even more, as it planned to back the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets through Pakistan.
As a result, to avoid tainting relations with Islamabad, then-US President Jimmy Carter opted not to interfere directly.
According to the report, instead of targeting nuclear facilities in Pakistan, Carter chose to deal with the country’s European suppliers, who were mostly headquartered in Germany and Switzerland.
The companies provided components to Pakistan and were accused of helping its nuclear program, according to secret US State Department papers made available to the public in 2021.
There were around a half-dozen firms each from Germany and Switzerland on the list.
As Pakistan’s nuclear program evolved, three of these firms were targeted by mysterious perpetrators.
In 1981, one bomb was planted in the home of a Cora Engineering’s leading employee, another in the factory of the Walischmiller firm, and the last one in the engineering office of the Heinz Mebus company. All three attacks caused just property damage.
Following the attacks, strangers threatened additional firms over the phone in English or shaky German. According to the NZZ, which has seen the investigation files, callers would occasionally request threats to be recorded.
One of the firms was threatened, saying, “The assault that we carried out on the Walischmiller company might happen to you as well.”
The owner of one firm, Siegfried Schertler, stated to Swiss Federal Police that the Israeli secret service had contacted him and his top salesperson and was contacting them multiple times on their private lines.
Schertler further claimed that David, an employee of the Israeli embassy in Germany, advised him to abandon “these businesses” involving nuclear weapons and instead focus on the textile industry.
Historian Adrian Hanni suggested that the assaults were most likely carried out by Mossad, Israel’s spy organization.
“Although a ‘smoking gun’ is missing to provide definite evidence, the attacks have a secret service signature,” Hanni added, pointing out similarities between these instances and known Israeli secret service strikes, such as the one at Iraq’s Osirak nuclear research reactor in 1981.
Officially, however, the “Organization for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia,” a formerly unknown organization, took responsibility.
According to the report, the gang was never seen or heard from again following the attacks.